Thursday, August 8, 2019

College Football, A Primer: More Information

Today we continue our college football primer. For previous posts see here, here, and here.

The Football Field

The standard football field is 100 yards long with end zones at each end. It is 160 feet wide (53 1/3 yards). The end zones are ten yards long and as wide as the field.

The 50-yard line is the middle of the field. From there the yard numbers get lower as they measure the distance in yards to the nearest end zone.  If a team starts on the 25 yard line, they are 75 yards from the end zone they need to get the ball into (their opponent's end zone). As they move forward, the numbers will get bigger until they pass the 50 yard line, then they will get smaller. A team's end zone is the one behind their backs, whether they are play offense or defense. This changes every quarter. This is so there's no advantage in going one way. Say the wind is blowing making passes longer in one direction. Then each team gets to use that advantage.

There are in college and pro football arrows pointing toward the nearest end zone by the numbers.

The Lines

There are two imaginary lines in football that you have to know about. One is the "line of scrimmage." This runs from sideline to sideline where the ball is placed. The offense (with the ball) lines up behind the line of scrimmage facing the defense. On television, a computer is used to project a dark (usually black or blue) line across the field at the line of scrimmage.

The second line is the "first down line." This is an imaginary line that runs from sideline to sideline that a player has to cross with the ball to get his team a first down. On television it is usually yellow except on CBS where it's kind of orange.

The Players

There are eleven men on the field for each team. One team will be playing offense (have the ball) and the other defense. (Kickoffs and punts are slightly different.)

Each person on the field has a job and a title such as "quarterback" or "running back" or "nose tackle." But a lot of those titles you don't have to worry about. I'll go over some of the ones you do have to worry about here.

The Offense

The center holds the ball until the quarterback signals he wants it. Lately that's been done a lot by clapping at the college level. Then the center "snaps" the ball to the quarterback. The center is in the middle of the front line, thus his title.

The quarterback either hands the ball off to a running back or throws the ball to a wide receiver or a running back. Or he might run with the ball himself but this is rare.

A running back, as the name implies, runs with the ball.

A wide receiver runs forward and catches the pass thrown by the quarterback. Or, is supposed to. He doesn't always achieve that.

The front line (how many varies) of the offense has the job of protecting the quarterback as he prepares to hand off or throw the ball, or open up holes in the defense's front line to let running back squirt through.

Other players try to protect the running backs from the defensive players. This is called "blocking."

The Defense

On the defense is the front line. Their job is to try to get to the quarterback or tackle whoever has the ball. If they tackle the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage, that's a "sack."

Safeties try to stop the wide receivers from catching the ball. They are limited in what they can do by the rules.

Everyone else tries to tackle the guy with the ball (pretty much).

Special Teams

Special teams are groups of players who don't play offense or defense. Some of the members might play offense or defense, and also play on special teams. For example, a running back that plays on the offensive squad might also be on the punt-returning or kick-off returning unit because he can run well with the ball.

 Special teams include:

The "punting unit" who punt the ball.
The "punt-returning unit" who try to catch the punted ball and return it for as many yards as possible.
The "field goal unit" who try to kick field goals.
The "kickoff unit" who kick off the ball for a kickoff.
The "kickoff-returning unit" who try to catch the kicked ball and return it for as many yards as possible.

The Clocks

There are two clocks in college (and pro) football.  One is the game clock. This clock count downs how much time is left in a quarter. There are 15 minutes to a quarter, but the clock will often stop so a "one hour" game lasts about three hours. At the end of the first quarter, the teams switch end zones (and thus the direction they face) and keep playing. At the end of the second quarter, it's halftime and play stops for 20 minutes (12 in the NFL). The end of the third quarter is just like the end of the first quarter. And when the fourth quarter ends, the game is over, unless the score is tied.

The other clock is the play clock. This clock counts down how long until the offense has to make a play. It is usually 25 or 40 seconds depending on what happened before. If the game close stopped before the play, it is 25 seconds. If the game clock is still running, it's 40 seconds. If the offense doesn't start the play before the play clock hits zero, they get a "delay of game" penalty (see Penalties which will be posted next week). Play starts when the center gives the ball to the quarterback ("snaps" the ball).


There are a lot of ways to score points in football.

The main two are touchdowns and field goals.

A "touchdown" is when a player on your team crossed the plane extending up from the goal line with the ball under his control. He can run the ball in or catch it in the end zone. But the ball has to be under his control. This is worth six points.

A "field goal" is kicking the football through the goal posts. This is usually done because the team can't get into the end zone. It is worth three points. If the team misses the field goal, the other team gets the ball from where the other team had it (the line of scrimmage). See The Downs (coming later).

An "extra point" is kicked after a touchdown. It is a lot like a field goal only is from a set distance (which is more in the NFL than in college) and is worth one point. These are rarely missed. This is also called a PAT (point after touchdown).

A "two-point conversion" is after a touchdown, also. From a set point, the offense tries to get the ball into the end zone like a touchdown. This is harder than a point after touchdown attempt. But it's worth two points.

And finally, a "safety" is when a player is tackled in their own end zone. This doesn't happen often but it does, sometimes. It’s worth two points, too.

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